Here’s the thing, I never saw myself as a cutter. There was a laceration here, a finger bitten way too hard there, wrists that were wrung until they were blood red, scratch marks down my arms on the rare moments that my nails grew long enough, it was never visible enough for others to see, and I always made sure to hide it well.
The only time I really realised that it was a problem, was last year, 2016, when I felt powerless in a situation and I immediately reached for the scissors. This wasn’t the me I was used to, cutting was synonymous with teenage Caryn, who cried about boys and read books about girls in love with vampires.
But I knew enough to know that was it was shameful and it was something that I should hide, even if I didn’t fully understand what I was doing and why I was doing it. In a way, I knew that it made me feel good, or at least feel something and that it was something that I continued to do. Looking back, I could pinpoint an array of reasonings behind it, but to me in that moment it was what made me feel alive. I had seen physical depictions of ‘cutters’ before on TV, teenage daughters who want attention or are feeling ‘emo’, but I was none of those things, I shied away from attention, I was happy and proactive and seemingly content with my life. I was nothing like those girls on TV.
Why am I talking about this now? When it seems like it has been so long since I officially stopped cutting? I wanted to talk about it because cutting is not just an experiment during your emo phase, it’s not something to be shoved under the mat. It is something that perhaps many people deal with and deserves being discussed. I have no idea how many people around me could be struggling with this because when I went through it, no one knew.
Nowadays, invisible illnesses is something that is spoken about increasingly, but most of the time it is difficult to identify within ourselves. It does not escape me that the cutting ended when my oldest sister, Vanessa moved back home from England when I was 17. It was not immediate, it was more instinctively, my sister made me feel real, made me valued, I did not have to look for outlets to release what I felt, I had her – she listened, she understood, she cared.
I’m not saying my parents did not care, they did, and they supported me as much as any parent would with I revealed to them, but I often found that I didn’t want to burden them anymore with my problems that I saw as trivial in comparison to what they had to deal with everyday.
My whole life, I had to make provisions for the fact that my parents were dealing with my other sister – her mood swings, her tantrums, her lying – that I almost felt the utmost pressure to be the good child, I had to give them a break, I had to show them that they do deserve a child who works hard, who does things the right way, who shies away from smoking, drinking and other vices, who puts their schoolwork first and is in church every Sunday, and when that became difficult I internalised my struggle so much so that it came out in other ways, such as stress ailments like eczema or hair loss.
When I became a teenager, this just increased, Vanessa was in a different country, my other sister went from being pregnant to having a child to a tik addiction to being unemployed. Everything about me became about her, I wasn’t allowed to complain about my stuff going missing because it would upset my parents further, I wouldn’t be allowed to come to them with what was hurting me because they didn’t have time because they were busy dealing with one of her episodes again and trying to give my nephew a normal home, I started to feel more like a passenger in my body that an actual human being with real issues and problems. I started doubting my own existence, my own thoughts, my own pain which led to the self-harming.
It began with a cut by accident, I was cutting open a sealed packet and nicked my finger, for a while I just stared at my finger as it bled, the pain feeling almost jarring, a relief, it made the other pain I had feel less so. This went on as I started becoming clever about where I would cut, how I would hurt myself. It was not right, and it definitely was not healthy but it was an outlet when I felt I had none, when I felt invisible, when I felt I had no voice.
Ten years later, I think about this time often, especially when I’m tempted to do the same thing again. I’m still living in the same house, my sister is still giving my parents’ problems and especially now that I’m grown up – that I’m making my own money, and buying things that I want or need – having it stolen and taken from me makes me feel more powerless than ever, especially when my parents tell me not to rock the boat. But now, I am self-aware enough to know when these emotions will arise, and brave enough to channel it in healthier ways such as prayer, talking to someone, or writing, or even crying.
It’s a journey, and why I know I’m lucky that I got out of it when I was still young and I learned how to deal with the root cause of why I was cutting, I am also aware that there are many people who do not, who continue hurting themselves well into adulthood, and some who cause their own deaths with their self-harming.
Up until now, less than a handful people knew about my history of self harm and they all only found out within the last year. I work with teenagers every week and I wonder how many of these well-adjusting, positive, seemingly happy ones are wrestling with demons that might kill their spirit. So I wrote this for them, and those that will parent children like them one day, you don’t have to be the stereotypical TV definition to be plagued by thoughts that make you want to hurt yourself, you don’t even have to be clinically diagnosed as depressed, it can catch at you everytime.
For parents, it is often easier to focus on the child that poses the loudest threat, the one who acts out often, who does wild cries for attention without taking note of the warning signs of the one who seems to do well in school, who does not cause trouble, or who seems content with whatever situation they are thrust in. But the ones who learn to mask their emotions easier are often times hiding hurt and pain that goes much deeper. And children are aware of much more than you think, they worry about your feelings, your emotions, and even when they yearn for your acceptance, they will prioritise their own struggles and issues to coincide with what they think you can handle.
For those affected, it is important to find people you can confide in, those who will hold you accountable, those who you can reach out to when you feel you might want to hurt yourself. Also find other outlets for your anger, your rage, your frustration, find a way to make yourself feel valued, loved, understood – whether it be prayer, or social media, or art, or work, or nature, find your happy place.
Remember that your struggle is important, your thoughts, your opinions, your pain is important, no matter how trivial anyone else may make you feel. Your feelings deserve to be felt, to be voiced, to be heard.